Chryssa Spilioti presents ‘life in all its complexity, which is bittersweet’
Chryssa Spilioti’s new play «Fire and Water» draws its themes from those of the clash of civilizations, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The writer/actress uses her trademark style to address cultural diversity, the global village and the needs of man, while also trying to give the lackadaisical a small mental jolt. A product of extensive research, the play is wonderfully carried by actress Katia Gerou and director Aspa Tombouli at the Alma Theater. Spilioti first appeared 11 years ago with the exceptional «Who Discovered America.» Ever since, her bittersweet, well-crafted and humorous stories have become landmarks in modern Greek theater. Her stories are full of mental booby traps that revive political and social dialogue. Is the East-West divide the dominant theme of «Fire and Water»? The question is not about differences, but similarities and not just in positive things. Neither immigration nor the «clash of civilizations» are the main themes of the play. These are the catalysts and form the background for the three characters. I wrote a story about three lonely souls. In this so-called civilized world we live in, there are a lot of solitary people living by their own rules and values. Just as we may think an Easterner is held prisoner to his fundamentalism, so a Westerner can be perceived as being trapped in his freedom. These are just labels that have been placed on us and fears that have been cultivated, «preparing» us so that next time Iran is invaded we will «know why.» These fears provide us with an alibi. How would you define the dividing line, if there is such a thing, between a conscious position and a cultivated fear? There is an essential totalitarianism and fundamentalism that exists within every human being. It is related to the inner violence that stems from the soul, which, in turn, is very similar throughout mankind. When a person has a strong sense of inner violence, he looks for ways to express himself and usually find fanaticism, in any form it may appear. What he really wants is to completely crush the other, the perceived adversary, but he needs to find an excuse to legitimize it. One thing that does tame a violent soul is culture and the arts, as well as selective relationships between people who may be from different cultural backgrounds but who are nonetheless interrelated. Is it necessary for the artist to hear these issues, to deconstruct them and put them back together? Or maybe to explain them and make suggestions? In my writing, I don’t like to point out, deliver or demand answers, but to pose questions that point in a direction. I find it interesting to make innuendo, to provide stimulus and for our thoughts to be insinuative. My way is to have a story, a narrative, with food for thought and plenty of mental booby traps underlying it. I often got into trouble in the three years it took me to write the play because I found myself preaching and writing in a smart-alecky style. I didn’t want to take it any further than it goes, because that would have meant making intimations, political analysis. That’s not my job, that’s a political analyst’s job. The spark and stimulus for the play was the 2003 war in Iraq. I felt swept up by it, taken away from my small, daily problems and it got me thinking: «This is crazy stuff. And I’m not going to say anything about it, not going to write something?» Writing became very liberating, it helped me get away from the matters of my own personal existence, away from Chryssa, from little me with my little problems that I imagine to be huge. Your writing is very humorous, but it also leaves a bittersweet aftertaste. Is this what you are like in life as well? It’s more like the way I choose to talk about life, through the theater. And this is a powerful weapon. Poking fun at myself, not taking myself at all seriously, is something that helps me survive. An image of a person dying in the hospital creeps to mind. The only way that person can react and cheat death even momentarily is by having a sense of humor. That takes him a step above his own death, since he can joke with it; it even kind of nullifies it. I also believe that when you are addressing an audience, you have to give them a bit of breathing room; you can’t steamroll them completely. You need to find ways to present life in all its complexity, which is bittersweet, neither black or white. «Fire and Water» is on at the Alma Theater (15-17 Akominatou & Aghiou Constantinou, Metaxourgeio, tel 210.522.0100) Mondays and Tuesdays at 9 p. m.